As a kid — oh, hell, who am I kidding? Let’s start over. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been more than a little bit obsessed with that ’90s classic, City Slickers. Billy Crystal and his cohorts head to a dude ranch to get their wild, wild West fix. Cue the hijinks! The hilarity! That sweet baby calf, Norman! And Curly, the surly cowboy! A chuck wagon, too! Oh, how the good times did roll.
Truth be told, I’ve always had an unusual affinity for America’s West. I devoured every single one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and watched Little House on the Prairie like a devotee. I secretly believed that if in fact there we are reincarnated, I had clearly spent my fair share of past lives in a Conestoga wagon.
And I totally killed it at Oregon Trail: “You have died of dysentery.” “Your oxen are ill.” Ah, memories.
At one point, my attention turned toward the great state of Montana, and things were never quite the same. I was about 13 years old. I started calling the state’s tourism board, trying to deepen my voice and say I was planning a trip for my family. Those good people sent me dozens of catalogs. I poured over the images of snow-capped mountains, fields of wildflowers and rugged-looking folks horseback riding. I was officially head over heels for the West.
Now, the Southwest, where I’ve been living for 6 weeks, has its own stark beauty, its own palette of colors — beiges, browns, reds, oranges, flaming yellows (see: Georgia O’Keeffe at Ghost Ranch). But after weeks of appreciating the striking desert landscape across New Mexico, it was time for a change, one that would involve Colorado.
My travels had never before taken me to the great Centennial State, and if I’m being honest, well, I just never had a burning desire to plan a trip there. But then, there was an incident.
While driving to Santa Fe, we ran into some kind folks from Lubbock, Texas who expounded on the virtues of Durango, Colo. “It’s only 4 hours north of Santa Fe!” Head nod. “It’s beautiful!” Polite smile. “It’s an old Wild West kinda town!” DING DING DING!! We had a winner.
One fine weekend we packed up Toots (our fearless vehicle) with our gear, and headed north. I nearly LOST IT when we made a pit stop at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and discovered — wait for it — the cabin where part of City Slickers was filmed. I squealed. My worlds were colliding. Life was surely good.
Then onward to Durango, which is a charmer of a town. This former mining town really does still have a flair reminiscent of old-timey saloons and barroom brawls, and a main street lined with charming shops, bars and restaurants. Still, I was here for the scenery. It was the exact injection of greenery and water I needed.
Durango is surrounded by looming, snow-dusted peaks, gushing rivers and general jaw-dropping beauty. To get a better sense of the region, we drove the famed San Juan Skyway, widely considered one of the most spectacular drives in the United States, if not the world. This 233-mile loop road heads through towns like Durango, Silverton and Dolores.
We stopped to soak the awesomeness in at the minuscule town of Silverton, whose dramatic setting wedged beneath monstrous mountains really will stop you in your tracks. Speaking of tracks (smooth transition, eh?), it’s here you’ll find the end of the famed Durango and Silverton narrow gauge railroad, which alas, we did not ride.
The otherworldliness of the environs, the raw power of nature and Earth and whatever other greater powers may be — it’s tangible here. At your fingertips. You can inhale the cold, clear, thin air from the top of a jagged mountain pass and feel more alive than you knew possible. You will look down a dizzying 10,000-plus foot drop and view the tops of aspen trees, peer into the distance and see waterfalls crashing down the crevices of mountains, then gaze up and see sky the color of a sapphire.
At that moment you will know, deeply, that you are very small, and the planet is very big. That there is so much to see. That you were put here to touch as much of this great wide world as possible.